In light of the recent discussion between Kevin DeYoung and Tullian Tchividjian, I thought it’d be helpful to hightlight an excellent essay by Dane Ortlund published in the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, “Sanctification by Justification: The Forgotten Insight of Bavick and Berkouwer on Progressive Sanctification.”

Here’s an overview:

Herman Bavinck and G. C. Berkouwer, each in his own way, explained spiritual progress—what we are calling “sanctification”—as taking place not by moving beyond justification but by feeding on it.That is, sanctification does not occur by graduating on from God’s justifying grace in the gospel but by reflecting on, enjoying, and appropriating it more and more deeply throughout one’s life. Counterintuitive though it be, one is sanctified not by moving past justification but by ever-deepening re-orientation toward it.

Ortlund’s essay proceeds in three parts:

We first explore the way Bavinck expresses his understanding of sanctification’s relation to justification.

Second, we do the same for Berkouwer.

Third, we synthesize the basic point held in common between these two thinkers. This synthesis will include incorporating Jonathan Edwards into the discussion in light of a neglect in Berkouwer’s understanding of sanctification, as well as briefly placing the Bavinck/Berkouwer insight into the larger soteriological context of union with Christ.

In his conclusion, Ortlund expresses his view that the two Dutchmen have rightly articulated a crucial insight for the fight of faith:

Justification is not only relevant for entrance into the people of God and for final acquittal, but, in between these two events, is the critical factor in the mind of the believer for healthy progressive sanctification.

However, he wants to make sure that this insight is placed into the larger soteriological framework of union with Christ, such that “sanctification by justification” is not the only means of being conformed to the image of Christ:

As has been argued by many in the tradition to which Bavinck and Berkouwer belong, union with Christ should be seen as the broadest soteriological rubric, within which both justification and sanctification are subsumed. This is to suggest neither that a robust appropriation of union with Christ is somehow in tension with the Bavinck/Berkouwer insight nor that they overlook union with Christ. Both (Berkouwer to a lesser degree) incorporate union with Christ into their discussions of sanctification. Still, these two Dutch thinkers—especially Berkouwer—could have been truer to the soteriology of the NT if they had more self-consciously placed their discussions of “sanctification by justification” within the broader conceptual category of being united to Christ. Paul himself, after all, countered the objection that justification provides a license to sin by first appealing to union with Christ (Rom. 5.20–6.23).

While Bavinck and Berkouwer have an important insight into how sanctification actually works in the daily lives of believers, then, it is not the only thing to be said in a full explication of progressive sanctification. Their insight must itself be incorporated into a broader portrait of salvation in which union with Christ encompasses the other salvific metaphors such as justification, sanctification, reconciliation, adoption, and so on. It is in Christ that believers are both justified (2 Cor. 5.21; Phil. 3.9) and sanctified (1 Cor. 1.2, 30; 6.11).

Though this is a mild critique, it is more importantly a reminder that this essay has concentrated on only one aspect of Bavinck’s and Berkouwer’s understanding of progressive sanctification. Much more—union with Christ, the Spirit, regeneration—must be incorporated for a theologically holistic portrayal of their understanding of sanctification.

In this regard, Ortlund is a bit more critical of Berkouwer than Bavinck:

Berkouwer makes the point [of sanctification by justification] more starkly than Bavinck, and in so doing wrongly downplays the new inclination or sense of the heart implanted in regeneration. Had Berkouwer listened more closely to an American strand of his own Reformed tradition (especially Jonathan Edwards), he could have had the more balanced view of Bavinck while retaining his basic point as to the critical role justification plays in ongoing sanctification. And it would be helpful if both Bavinck and Berkouwer placed their understanding of sanctification more explicitly against the broader soteriological backdrop of union with Christ. Nonetheless, Bavinck and Berkouwer share a significant insight into the nature of healthy progressive sanctification—one which wonderfully preserves the centrality of the gospel for all of life.